The Last Black Man In San Francisco
Director: Joe Talbot
Writers: Joe Talbot, Jimmie Fails
Stars: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Mike Epps
The effects of gentrification weigh heavily on the city itself as well as its inhabitants in director Joe Talbot’s debut feature, The Last Black Man In San Francisco. The title is more of an exaggeration, despite the film going in some magical realism style directions which could have signaled a literal take, and instead deals with a man, played by Jimmie Fails (and based on his own life) who feels like he’s being pushed out of the city he calls home.
Jimmie is borderline obsessed with a house that was built by his grandfather in a now gentrified neighborhood in San Francisco. The house is big and beautiful, but it’s not the status that keeps Jimmie going back to hang out in front of and even work on repairs to the house (much to the chagrin of its new wealthy white inhabitants). It’s the sense of belonging and history that make him want to live there so badly.
So when a chance situation leaves the house vacant for the foreseeable future, Jimmie does what he thinks is the right thing to do and just moves in with his best friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors, the stand-out of the film)… Yeah this house was his family’s at one point… Yeah he wants it so bad… But what he’s doing can only be described as squatting.
I’ll be honest, as hard as the emotional themes of the film hit me, it was a little hard to get on board a protagonist that is a squatter after issues in my own neighborhood… BUT lets leave those personal qualms aside and focus on the movie at hand. Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors are an absolute joy to watch, and Joe Talbot’s debut is amazingly assured. Some of the shots are just so beautiful to look at, and to see these characters dealing with the joy and pain of their poor existence in their constantly changing neighborhood that clearly doesn’t seem to have room for them anymore… It’s heartbreaking but wonderful.
It all builds to a one-man-show of sorts by Montgomery that reveals truths and leans heavily into that magical realism that the film toys with throughout. An excellent supporting cast adds a lot of flavor to the film, and most important of all is a phenomenal score by Emile Mosseri that elevates things to another level.
While there’s obviously a lot I loved about the film, The Last Black Man In San Francisco does slip a little while trying to blend tones between drama and comedy, realistic and magical, and trying to follow the film from one to another. But still, it’s a fantastic debut and a film that seems to get better the more you think about it.